The national championship in 2010 came down to a battle between a Blueblood and a Cinderella. It came down to a single shot from halfcourt. In the end, there was no Cinderella ending and Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski won his fourth NCAA title. Here’s a look back on the paths that Duke, along with Butler, West Virginia, and Michigan State, took to reach the 2010 Final Four in Indianapolis.
Coming into the season, Coach K was already a legend, with three national titles and 10 Final Four trips. But the most recent crown was 2001, and the last Final Four appearance came in 2004. By Duke standards, this was a dry spell—one that was made worse by rival North Carolina winning two titles in the intervening years, including in 2009.
This year’s Blue Devil team was led by a backcourt of Jon Scheyer—who would ultimately be Krzyzewski’s successor in the fall of 2022—and Nolan Smith. Scheyer and Smith were small, but they could produce, averaging a combined 35 points per game. The best all-around player was forward Kyle Singler, who averaged 18 points/7 rebounds. And the ultimate success of Duke in any individual game often came down to the rebounding of Brian Zoubek, who averaged eight boards a night.
Duke tied with Maryland for the ACC’s regular season championship, then won the conference tournament, and got the #1 seed in the South. The Blue Devils went to Jacksonville to begin NCAA play. The combination of defense, rebounding and Singler carried them to a 73-44 win over Arkansas-Pine Bluff. In the Round of 32 against Cal, Singler went for 17 more, while Smith knocked down 20. And Zoubek’s 14/13 line inside helped pave the way to a comfortable 68-53 win.
Houston was the destination spot for the South Regionals and Duke played #4 seed Purdue in the Sweet 16. Neither team shot the ball well, but Zoubek was leading the way in cleaning up the misses. The big man hauled down 14 rebounds, keying a dominant 45-22 Blue Devil edge on the boards. The Triple S package—Singler, Scheyer and Smith produced almost all of Duke’s offense in a 72-57 win.
The region’s #2 seed was Villanova, a team that Duke owed some revenge to for a blowout in the 2009 Sweet 16. But the Wildcats fell in the second round and 3-seed Baylor was the opponent in the Elite Eight. This would be a battle. The Blue Devils trailed by ten at the half and were outshot 46 percent to 36 percent from the floor. What Duke did do was get to the foul line. They outscored Baylor 23-12 at the stripe. Scheyer hit for 20 points. Smith knocked down 29 and was named Most Outstanding Player as the Blue Devils won 78-71.
Butler was a modestly accomplished NCAA program, having made a handful of Sweet 16s, including as recently as 2007. But they were overshadowed in-state by Purdue, Indiana, and Notre Dame. Brad Stevens came in as the head coach in 2008, and continued the modest success, making the NCAAs each of his first two years.
The 2010 Bulldogs were led by future NBA star Gordon Heyward, who averaged 16 points/8 rebounds per game. Shelvin Mack was a tough and physical guard, who averaged 14 points/4 rebounds/3 assists. Matt Howard played down low and averaged a 12/5. Butler blew through the Horizon League undefeated, both regular season and tournament and were seeded on the 5-line in the West Regional.
Anyone that follows the NCAA Tournament knows that the first-round game where the 5-seed plays the 12-seed is rife with upsets. So, when Butler fell behind Texas-El Paso 33-27 at the half, it was no real shock. But with Mack going for 25 points, the Bulldogs dominated the second half and won 77-59. Butler’s fellow favorite out in San Jose, 4-seed Vanderbilt had not been so lucky. The Commodores lost to Murray State. And Butler almost did too. They trailed the Racers 26-22 at the half and were generally outplayed. But taking care of the basketball, while forcing 16 turnovers allowed the Bulldogs to escape, 54-52.
Nothing Butler had done over the first weekend suggested anything special was in store when they went to Salt Lake City for the regionals. Especially with 1-seed Syracuse and 2-seed Kansas State still intact. But the ability of the Bulldogs to take care of the basketball, while getting turnovers themselves, would continue to pay dividends. They kept the Orangeman off-balance, got 17 points from Heyward, a 14/6/5 line from Mack and won the regional semifinal, 63-59.
Kansas State survived a classic double-overtime battle with 6-seed Xavier to get the other spot in the Elite Eight. Butler wasn’t as sharp with the ball as they’d been the previous two games. In fact, they turned it over 20 times. But they controlled the boards and held K-State to 39 percent shooting. Heyward’s 22/9 performance got him the Most Outstanding Player trophy. Mack added a 16/7 line. Butler’s 63-56 win meant they would be a home team at the Final Four in Indy.
West Virginia hadn’t seen the Final Four since the days of Jerry West back in 1959. This was Bob Huggins’ third year in Morgantown and his team was led by a terrific forward in Da’Sean Butler, who averaged 17 points/6 rebounds per game. Kevin Jones and Devin Ebanks were also athletic scorers and rebounders, who combined to averaged a 26/15 per night. Then playing in the Big East, West Virginia went 24-6, finishing two games back of Syracuse in the conference race. But the Mountaineers went to Madison Square Garden and won the Big East tournament. That got them vaulted up to the 2-line in the East Regional.
WVA’s NCAA journey began in Buffalo, with a 77-50 rout of Morgan State. Banks and Jones combined for a 33/21. Missouri was the opponent in the Round of 32. The suffocating defense that Huggins’ teams have been known for was in evidence. The Tigers only shot 33 percent. Butler went for 28/8, while Ebanks added a 14/7 line. West Virginia won 68-59 and advanced to the Sweet 16.
The Carrier Dome in Syracuse was the East Regional venue. Kentucky was the #1 seed, favored in both this region and the tournament overall. But the bottom half of the draw was gutted, with #3 New Mexico and #4 Wisconsin both gone. Kentucky blew out Cornell in one regional semi. West Virginia drew 11-seed Washington. After a spotty first half, where the Mountaineers trailed 29-27, rebounding dominance kicked in. WVA won the glass 41-25 and pulled away to a 69-56 win.
A showdown with Kentucky was at hand. Neither team shot well, but a defensive game would suit Huggins just fine. West Virginia nudged out to a 28-26 lead at the half. And the Mountaineers, while struggling from two-point range, were paradoxically draining the three-ball. Butler went 4-for-8 from behind the arc to key an 18/6 line for the game. Joe Mazzula, a reserve guard came off the bench and popped in 17 points.
It was enough to get Mazzula, the current coach of the Boston Celtics, the Most Outstanding Player award. Butler would have been a better choice, given his contributions in both games at the Carrier Dome. West Virginia was going to the Final Four.
Tom Izzo was no stranger to the Final Four. In fact, his Spartans had reached the Monday night final just one year ago, in Izzo’s fifth trip to college basketball’s biggest stage. He had a national title under his belt from 2000. In 2010, Izzo loaded up again. A balanced attack was led by guard Kalin Lucas. Durrell Summers and Raymar Morgan were double-digit scorers and good rebounders from the wing. And there was a sophomore forward named Draymond Green making an impact, both scoring and attacking the glass.
Michigan State won 24 regular season games and were one of three teams, along with Purdue and Ohio State, to share the Big Ten crown. But a quarterfinal loss in the conference tournament relegated Sparty to the 5-seed in the Midwest Regional, and sent them to Spokane to play on the first weekend.
The long trip and difficult seed line led to a challenging first game against New Mexico State. Lucas came up with 25 points to help pull out a 70-67 win. The Round of 32 game with Maryland was a March classic. Morgan went for 17/9. Summers led the way with 26 points. After the Terps had taken an 83-82 lead in the closing seconds, Summers raced up the floor and drained a three at the buzzer to win it.
Michigan State could come back to the Midwest, where St. Louis was hosting the regionals. They had also gotten a big bracket break. Kansas, the #1 seed, had been stunned by Northern Iowa. For a half of basketball in the Sweet 16, it didn’t seem like much of a break—Northern Iowa led Sparty 29-22. But with a 31-20 edge on the boards, and Summers playing a fantastic game, with 19 points/17 rebounds, Michigan State turned it around and won 59-52.
And the bracket kept getting gutted. #3 seed Georgetown was already gone. And Big Ten rival Ohio State, the 2-seed, fell to #6 Tennessee in a good Sweet 16 game. The Spartans were wearing their home jerseys against the Vols in the regional final.
This would be another classic, down-to-the-wire game. Summers scored 21 points. In a 69-69 tie, Tennessee missed a free throw with 11 seconds left that could have given them the lead. Michigan State raced down the floor. With two seconds left, Morgan was fouled near the basket. He made the first free throw, capping a 13/10 performance, and that point put Sparty in the Final Four, 70-69. Summers was an easy call for Most Outstanding Player.
THE 2010 FINAL FOUR
The two dark horses coming from the 5-seed lines were paired up in the early evening tipoff from Indianapolis. Butler and Michigan State played a grinding basketball game. The Spartans shot 43 percent, compared to just 30 percent for the Bulldogs. Butler was back to its efficient play and winning turnover margin. Though neither team shot their free throws well, the Bulldogs got more chances and enjoyed a seven-point edge from the charity stripe. Heyward got 19 points/9 rebounds and the last of those boards, on the defensive end, sealed the 52-50 win.
Duke and West Virginia was the marquee event, but it turned into a dud of a game with a scary moment. Da’Sean Butler crashed hard to the floor with a serious knee injury that would derail his NBA hopes. The injury put a pall over a night where Duke shot exceptionally well, going 13/25 from behind the arc. The Triple S boys combined for 63 points, Zoubek collected 10 rebounds and the Blue Devils won 78-61.
So, it was down to Duke and Butler for the national championship. There was no question that the Bulldogs had America’s heart. And they nearly had the title. Their bench outscored the Blue Devils’ reserves 15-zip and they hung in the game. But Scheyer had a good all-around performance, with a final line of 15/6/4. Zoubek was again reliable on the boards, with 10 more. Singler went for 19/9. Heyward only shot 2-for-11.
Even so, Duke couldn’t put the game away. Holding a 61-59 lead, a missed free throw meant that Heyward got a last desperate heave from halfcourt. It rattled off the rim, leaving CBS’ Jim Nantz to blurt it “It almost went in!”. But it hadn’t. Butler was, and remains, a great story. Duke was, again, the NCAA champs.